Finally… Charles Dickens!

I can’t remember how many times I pass through the Charles Dickens section at the Kinokuniya bookstore, Plaza Senayan shopping mall, Central Jakarta, without buying one of his titles until a couple of days ago my mind suddenly shifted from Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Cranford’ to Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.’

I have wanted to read ‘Cranford’ not long after I was so head over heels for Gaskell’s adorable language in her ‘Mary Burton’. I read the first few pages of ‘Cranford’ and as usual, Gaskell’s writing is so superb. She can always craft a gold out of straws. What seems to many of us as ordinary, boring views can instead be her rich resource. ‘Cranford’ is no exception.

But how didn’t I purchase it right after ‘Mary Barton’? Ok, let me be honest here. It’s because ‘Cranford’ features spinsters. No matter how light and cheerful the book is, as suggested by reviewers, becoming spinsters is by all means gloomy. I tend to avoid novels that touch spinsterhood. Apart from private matter about spinsterhood, I faced a very limited option to read after I had completed reading ‘Agnes Grey’ in the bookstore. Knowing that I didn’t have many choices since I have read almost all novels from my favorite authors that are in the store, I immediately remembered ‘Cranford’ once I had decided to read more materials in the Victorian era.

“Better to read a book that will satisfy my hunger on beauty amid personal issue than experiencing something I know it won’t even ignite my imagination,” my mind said at that time. So, I forced myself taking a very tough journey from office in Ciputat, South Tangerang, to the mall. It was a very tiring trip for I had to pass through some traffic jam points all along the journey. But I must not give up and directly went back at home because there was a good book awaiting me.

After a few hours on the road, I reached the store and found out ‘Cranford’ remained at the same point the last time I spotted it. I looked at ‘Cranford’ for a few times and almost brought it to the store’s cashier for payment but the spinsterhood issue moved my mind to reconsider the would-be decision. So, my eyes shifted to a tall bookshelf next to the ‘Cranford’ section. George Eliot, Sir Arthur Conan Dyle and definitely Charles Dickens. Prior to this visit, I have read at some initial pages of Dickens’ most popular novels, such as ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Hard Times’, and ‘The Pickwick Papers’, none of which wowed me by the words. My most wanted masterpiece from Dickens is ‘Our Mutual Friend’. I love it from the first words I read, giving the kind of sensation after I just read books by Thomas Hardy. Unfortunately, the store does not sell ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and I know not when it will be available.

I have read the title of “The Old Curiosity Shop’, definitely but I never thought of it until that evening. I made use some valuable seconds to check some first pages of the novel at the internet given the battery of my smartphone was running out. I was not really awed with them but somehow I made a compromise. I was considering that I should try reading books from first-person narration as the reading experience with ‘Agnes Grey’ that applies such method proved to be impressive. Besides, it was time for me to seek books with complex plots with not many drama focusing on major characters. It was time for me to read novels that would overwhelm me with conflicts.

A refreshment from usual preference of beautiful, magical language as in Thomas Hardy or Elizabeth Gaskell’s masterpieces. So I bought the novel at the end. I was prepared for the long reading journey given its 500-something pages and by the time I currently on the page of 134, I am deeply immersed by the book.

The first page captured my heart. It keeps me wondering what the book will be at the end. Despite the many characters on the book, I can still follow what it has to offer because I know beforehand the core of the book. The characters of Nelly Trent completely touches my sympathy. I suddenly associate her with Hardy’s Tess. Then, I can feel the good humor sense of the book and finally………..

I applaud Dickens’ unquestionable writing skills, his vivid imaginations and his overall mind and heart put in the book. The book is so wealthy by far. In terms of story plots, language, human emotions and all important elements that readers want to digest within one book.

Thank you for myself. Thank you for eventually getting touch with the British most-beloved, prolific author after some years launching a journey into the Victorian literature. I am so relieved that I come to this point where I read books from Dickens, who can be said is the pivot of the Victorian literature.

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‘Agnes Grey’ by Anne Bronte

anne bronteAgnes’s mother marries his father, Richard Grey, against the wishes of her friends and father, a squire. Mr. Grey, the clergyman of the north of England, is a fine man with modest income to make ends meet for the family of four. Agnes and Mary are the children of the overall six ones who survive in infancy and early childhood. Agnes’s mother is a very spirited woman, clever and smart, the kind of woman who knows how to keep his husband in a good spirit even if their lives turn sour after Mr. Grey’s property investment fails. Since then, his health becomes faltering, his mood easily gets sober.

It’s time for Agnes and Mary help financing the household. Mary uses her drawing skills to earn money while Agnes, despite initial rejections from her parents, opts to work as a governess. With all of her fine education taught by her mother, she is certain she can be a good one. So her mother gets her the first job as a governess in the Bloomfields family in the Wellwood mansion with a fair amount of payment. Agnes is nearly 19 year old when she leaves the house.

Their children are Tom Bloomfield, a boy of seven; Mary Ann, Fanny who will be four years old, and Harriet, a boy of two. Overall, Agnes finds it difficult not only to provide them proper education but also to tame their wild behaviors. She even feels she is treated just like a servant in the family. She doesn’t get along with the kids’ grandmother and especially their uncle who loves enslaving animals, which later influence them to do the same thing. Agnes gets more and more uncomfortable but she stays on her promise that she won’t give up amidst the hard times.

Until, she gets fired because the employers think her presence does not significantly improve their kids’ attitude for their manners uncultivated and their tempers unruly. So she goes back home with a belief that not all parents are like Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield and not all children are like theirs. She has been seasoned by the adversity, and tutored by the experience, and she longs to redeem her lost honor in the eyes of those whose opinion is more than that of all the world to her (Agnes Grey page 38).

For a couple of months, Agnes enjoys her free time at home with the love from the family. Her father’s health is better than the last time she sees him and now she can entertain him by singing his favorite songs. No one is joyful with the failure she makes while working for the Bloomfield family. All are happy to receive her back and shower her with even more care and tenderness. Mary gets so well with her drawings.

Her mother tries to discourage Agnes when she touches the subject of becoming a governess again. But the latter firmness makes her mother gives up then advises her to advertise herself on her skills — music, singing, drawing, French, Latin and German. Soon the advertisement is written then dispatched. There are two parties that are interested in using Agnes’s service but her mother suggests the party who is willing to pay fifty pounds. She then departs for Horton Lodge, the place where the Murray family, her second employer, lives.

Miss Matilda, about 14 years old, is among the first who firstly sees her arriving at the family. Her sister, Miss Murray, or Rosalie, is about 16 when Agnes comes to the house. She is a very beautiful girl, tall and slender. She is lively, light-hearted and can be very agreeable (Agnes Grey, page 49). Miss Rosalie respects Agnes and the latter likes the former, too. What lacks in Miss Rosalie’s manner is her uncivil manners to nurses, governesses and servants. She has not been taught to moderate her desires or control her temper. She is often testy and capricious and is scornful.

Matilda is a tomboy girl, careless and cares so little about her appearance unlike her older sister. Matilda likes riding horses, headstrong and violent, and so unladylike.

John is about 11 years old who unfortunately grows up as an unruly, unprincipled, untaught boy. Charles, the mother’s particular darling, is a year younger than John, a selfish little fellow, naughty boy who brings only nuisance to Agnes. She completely has to be very patient to live with him peaceably and teach him.

The mansion is located almost two miles from the village church thus the family regularly attends the preaching. The kids’ arrogance really tests Agnes’s temper. She sometimes feels her life is foolish for she cares a lot for them but receives negligence in return. But her patience pays off. The kids slowly little less insolent and begin to show some symptoms of esteem (Agnes Grey page 55).

Miss Murray is now 18 years old and it’s time for her to come out by attending a ball. And after she returns from the party, she can’t help talking to Agnes the names of the gentlemen who admire her beauty; Sir Thomas Ashby, whom she calls as a young, rich but a beast. Then, she mentions Sir Hugh Meltham and Sir Broadley Wilson. Henry Meltham, a rather good-looking, a pleasant fellow to flirt with. Mr. Green, too, is among one of her fans whom she says a rich fellow but of no family. Mr. Hatfield, a rector, falls under her humble admirer.

One bright day in the last week of February while Miss Murray pays a morning call with her mother and Miss Matilda goes her daily ride, Agnes visit Nancy Brown, a widow whose son spends all day long working in the fields. Nancy has an inflammation in her eyes that make it difficult for reading. Agnes feels joyful to spend her brief with Nancy. She finds her days no longer lonely and even sees her life wiser and happier after talking with Nancy. Plus, she gets to know about Mr. Edward Weston, the curator of the church she often attends to. The two becomes better acquainted from which Agnes gradually has a crush on him.

On the other hand, Miss Murray enjoys the admirations from the gentlemen previously mentioned. She regularly attends the church just to enjoy what her fans say about her. Mr. Hatfield persistently approaches her only to later learn that Miss Murray plays with his heart.

Miss Murray eventually marries with Sir Thomas Ashby then becomes Lady Ashby. Not long after that, Agnes’s father passes away. She decides to leave the Murray family, return to her hometown for helping her mother setting up a school. While the school runs well, Agnes once pays a visit to Lady Ashby, who is now pregnant, when the family is in Horton Lodge. Lady Ashby completely greets Agnes like a great guest, providing her with a very comfortable room, a nice library and a very warm companionship. Although on the surface, Lady Ashby enjoys a luxurious life she admits that she is a bit unhappy. Her husband sometimes acts uncivilly while her mother-in-law is like a spy. From her, Agnes finds out that Mr. Weston is no longer at the Horton Lodge. She then returns home while feeling clueless on the whereabouts of the man who has made her unwilling to eat and has caused her mind not feeling at ease.

Before the clock strikes at six on a bright, beautiful morning, Agnes goes out of home. She walks toward the beach, enjoys whatever it has in store for her. She meets Mr. Weston there. They spend the morning together for the first time after her departure from Horton Lodge. He tells her that he now works nearby the place where she lives. He often looks for her but fruitless for Agnes rarely leaves her house and the school. All in all, Mr. Weston wants to meet her mother and eventually asks for her consent to marry Agnes. After he gets the approval, Mr. Weston expresses his wishes to marry Agnes and she definitely agrees to be his forever partner in life. The couple is later blessed with three children.

thank you to http://www.pinterest.com for the picture.

Four things that make Thomas Hardy’s books are difficult

I’m thankful that I come at Thomas Hardy’s books after reading lighter topics from other writers because Hardy’s works are challenging. It feels like I have been trained for some years before taking the real adventure of literature.

And fortunately, I unintentionally pick up “Far from the Madding Crowd” as the starter that perfectly suits my mood and expectations at that time. This pleasant impression makes me wanting to read another novel. I can’t imagine what would happen should I select “Jude the Obscure” as the opener. May be I would never become Hardy’s biggest fan like I am.

For me, or may be for some, reading Hardy’s books require the readers to entirely focus on the books because these four aspects can be the greatest challenges, which, once you can overcome them all, you’ll want more and more instead:

  1. Highly specific, powerful, implicit descriptions

Hardy is the worshiper of nature. He loves describing what nature has to offer. While the readers are wowed by his rich vocabulary, driven to get into his imaginary world, they may be puzzled with what they signify. Honestly, after reading some of his books, I can’t always associate the depictions with what he wants to convey. I am still on the surface when it comes at this kind of thing. Or in another word, my ability is still at the surface; enjoying his expressions, word per word. Not yet deeper than that.

  1. Digging so deep into major characters

Characterization is definitely Hardy’s most unbelievable mastery. He never lets any slightest parts of his major characters left untouched. Reading his novels means you really learn the major figures in the books. You feel as if they were real people. Hardy never fails at presenting the big names on the books as normal human beings, with all of their flaws, mistakes, stupidity, greatness, and such. Again, I applaud Hardy’s ‘Micheal Henchard’, he remains my most favorite fictitious character of all time.

Learning each of his major character in such personal ways makes the readers feeling ‘so complete’. And to enjoy this, the readers must devote a lot of time not only to understand the major characters’ motives but also to imagine what if they were in their positions. You know what the most precious lesson that I draw after reading his major characters? I have no right to judge. I become much more tolerable to other people because each and every one of them has reasons for what they do.

  1. Breaking the hearts when it comes to the conclusion

Spoiler alert: Hardy’s books are not for romance enthusiasts. Those wishing happily live ever after may find his novels are a disappointment despite the fact that he falls under the Victorian Era writer which is identical with love stories. I have only read his popular books but I think my experiences may support my findings that even if his novel ends with a marriage or a union, some holes left unfulfilled. His finales are complete, meaning that some characters end up living their lives in happy modes, but some are not. You can even find that some of his most enduring heroes or heroines are dead. ‘Tess’ is the best example for this.

  1. Unthinkable bleak, gloomy view of life

If you have read ‘Jude the Obscure’, you know what I mean. Until now, I still wonder what’s on his mind when composing the book. Do all that happen following Jude and Sue’s ‘illegal union’ reflect his opinions about the society? That once you go against public wishes you’ll get the wicked of all? The death of their illegitimate child, the return of Sue to her formal husband is beyond my understandings. Then, eventually, Jude intentionally takes no care of his own life, return to his former legal wife and dies slowly. Here are my thoughts about his perspective: Rebellious, stubborn, realistic cum naive and hopeless.

“The Three Strangers” by Thomas Hardy

I thought I would never again find another title other than famous novels by Thomas Hardy in the Kinokuniya bookstore. “Far from the Madding Crowd,” Jude the Obscure”, “The Major of Casterbridge”, “Tess of the D’urbervilles, “The Return of the Native”, and “The Woodlanders”, are his widely-read books, which I have read, too. Usually, the store sells only most popular works from an author, including Hardy, thus discovering his short stories collection is such a rarity for me.

Aside from the glee that I am going to read his less popular stories, the fact that the book is just as Rp21,000 or less than US$2 is perfect for my current pocket.  The 85-pages book contain his three stories – “The Three Strangers”, “The Distracted Preacher” and “The Fiddler of the Reels. So far, I have completed reading “The Three Strangers” which leave me with mixed feelings about the writer.

Before going on the reading remarks, I would like to share what the story is all about:

The loneliness of Higher Crowstairs, the name of a cottage, is broken down by the gathering of 19 persons — men and women from various professions. They dance, talk about so many things while listening to the beautiful rhythm coming from a 12-year old fiddler boy. One of the attendants in the conglomeration is shepherd Fennel and his wife. The blitheness of the party comes to a stop when a stranger knocks at the shepherd’s house.

Not long after that, a second strangeman goes in, too. While the first produces no sign of awkwardness, the second one seems a bit avaricious and mysterious at least for Mrs. Fennel. Although she tells her husband how she dislikes the look of the second man and that she feels he is a bit avaricious for quickly drinking lots of mead, Mr. Fennel ignores her complains.

The night goes on and the second stranger joins the party by singing a song about shepherd which stimulates the wonder among the people because of the man’s strange lyrics. While he is about to resume his song a knock at the door is audible. The third stranger, a man in a decent dark clothes, is about to ask for a direction but he stops saying after his eyes catches those of the second stranger. The latter keeps singing, though, that later makes the third man gets trembling, shaking then running away.

While the group has yet to fully understand the motives of the third man’s sudden departure, a gunshot shocks them. Later, they learn that the police are looking for a shepherd stealer. They then quickly conclude that the third man is their target given his super quick, weird behaviours. The male attendants pursue him, including the second man.

However, he does not follow the overall research and stops by at a friend’s  house. At the end of the search, the people and the authority finds the third stranger then brings him to the police. Surprisingly, the police declare that the third stranger is not the wanted man. The third man then explains that it is the second man who becomes the object of the investigation. He flees from the shepherd’s house after he finds out that the second man, who is also his brother, is there, too. When his brother rises his bass voice, the third stranger quickly learns that the former does not want to be found thus the latter chooses to escape. At the end of the story, the second man is never discovered.